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Marcus was one of the strongest men of his time when he was an emperor in Rome, the biggest empire at the time. Born Marcus Aurelius Antonius, he was adopted by his uncle, Hadrian who appointed him to priesthood in 129 BC. Marcus, a stoic philosopher succeeded Hadrian as emperor in 161 BCE and ruled jointly with Lucia Vera. He fought so many battles for Rome but the most important is his literature on meditation which lay basis for stoicism, a philosophy that defined what a good life is. He was the only emperor besides Caesar whose writing has much value. The meditations were loosely organized philosophies from stoicism which he had discovered at the age of 11 and addressed the plight of the people during the Greco-Roman civilization.
Note that the meditations were written based on his experiences in life, just like the confessions of Augustus before him. In his philosophy, he urges that people should not seek to know what a good man is like or what a good man should be, rather, he points out that they should become good men themselves. In his meditations, he cautions that the future and the past are inaccessible and one can only influence the present. As a result, he points out that the goal of each individual is not to the populace but rather to the private conquest of satisfying and perfecting their character and spirit. This paper seeks to determine the exact definition of a good life according to Marcus Aurelius and see whether it has any relevance in our day to day activities at the present.
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and the Good Life
According to the meditations everything happens with a reason, whether good or bad. They are have the propensity for causing a change in our lifestyles and as such can influence our behaviors, character and spirit. However, Marcus cautions that one who intends to live a good life should block himself from all this and focus on making his thoughts and actions pure. He argues that even thoughts should be controlled for one to have a good life. Accordingly, there is the problem that comes with the human perception and interaction. Apparently, Marcus defines a good life as that where no distraction that comes between people is allowed to prevail so that at no time will there be a conflict between the two parties. In this, Marcus was absolutely right as interactions have a susceptibility to cause the way of life of the individuals living in a certain community. With peaceful coexistence, people are at harmony and good life prevails (Casaubon, pp.3).
Another important aspect of a good life is that people should live selflessly without giving too much attention to the benefits they intend on themselves as this will be directed to their bodies which are not important. He argues that the most important part of the human beings is the soul. According to Marcus, life can torment the body but one should always make sure that the character and the spirit, all which pertains to the soul remains untouched as this is what suggests who the person was (Casaubon,pp.4). He argues that there is no proof that there exists gods but keeping the soul pure, when one dies and the soul is pure, gods should be just enough to welcome you according to the virtues by which you lived.
Again if the gods are unjust, a person of pure soul will not want to worship them. Finally, if gods do not exist at all, a life of pure soul and humanity will leave behind noble memories to those you live behind. The argument is that one should live his or her life according to the way they feel inclined knowing far too well that the consequences are to themselves. He advocates the life of purity as there is nothing one can loose by doing so while there is everything to loose if they live otherwise (Casaubon,pp.15). The teachings of the stoic philosophy differed slightly with Aristotle who thought that to be good a man had to have some fortunes (Kuninski,56-67).
Marcus points out that a man who does not have get depressed by the vexation of other people and their thoughts towards him but only focuses on attaining his goals and executing a purposeful and productive life, with love for his family and his kinsmen cannot have a bad life. It is important to note that this kind of life as described by Marcus does not mean that one should life in solitary or austerity but that one will live free of occasions that could corrupt his soul. Additionally, Marcus warns that such a man should not be open to listen to slanders and gossip of other people as this might taint his perception of the said individuals and thus develop a seed for hatred. Surely, Marcus was a wise person by coming to such a realization at that time in life. Even in the civilized world, these are some of the things that lead to broken families and hatred among friends and brothers. Definitely, people who live in such kind of life of hate cannot have a good life. It should be mentioned that good life, not according to Marcus or any other philosopher but based on life itself is not about earthly acquisition but rather how one coexists with fellow humankind (Jones,para.1).
Perhaps Marcus had already realized this at the time in the history of civilization as indicated in his meditations. He points that fraud, hypocrisy; corruption and envy are very much likely to be in a tyrannical kingdom. Furthermore, he indicates that people considered noble in such tyrannical kingdoms are incapable of experiencing natural affection from their people and sometimes from their families. It can be argued that those vices in such systems of leadership have a direct oppressive nature to their people and therefore the people are wont to rebel against those who subject them to oppression. In the present world, most nations which have had tyrannies as leaders have had uprisings and rebellions where these leaders have either been kicked out as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt or are still fighting like in Libya. Definitely, these leaders are not having a good life as it is since they are keeping in hideouts and further still are haunted by the experiences they are having or have caused during their leadership. Matter of factly, this would not have been the case had they followed the teachings of Marcus on governing selflessly and without tyranny (Casaubon,pp.8).
There is also the importance that one should not speak ill of other people and most especially about their masters. However, in cases where they feel that justice is not done unto them, they should seek audience with the individual and make clear their feelings to them. Marcus was a ruler and therefore to some extent exposed to different feelings that people experienced under their masters and also knew how they could suffer consequences if they handled their differences in the wrong manner. It would be very important for him to advise people on the proper way they would address such difference. For instance, although he was among the five good emperors of Rome, there were laws that governed treason. This means that an emperor and even other nobilities were in a position to order for execution of their subjects if they wronged them which could be by way of exposing their plight under their masters to the public. Marcus therefore warned that those simple things that could be solved by use of dialogue had a propensity to cause serious damage to the quality of life and advocated that people should refrain from them (Casaubon, pp.7).
The meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the foundation of stoicism points out that a good life is one of happiness. The importance is to make one always strive to make happiness as the end product of his life not only to himself but also to those he leaves behind after his death (d'Urfé,pp.1). Apparently, good life revolves about nature and therefore a man who wishes to live a good life should always be in a position to conform to nature including reasoning (Jennylene, para.4) What is deduced from the meditation is that everything happens with a reason and therefore each and every person should be in a position to make reasonable decisions pertaining to their daily activities and the satisfaction of their main goal of attaining a good life. Reasoning is the sole factor that distinguishes man from animals and thus, as a tool of nature should be utilized to meet the objectives (Casaubon,pp.12).
Note that according to Marcus, the will of doing well was guided by the will of each person to lead a good life and with assistance from the gods. This he attributed to his brother, with whom they jointly ruled, ruled until the death of his brother. He indicates that the desire was not for the power that came with the rulers but rather with the welfare of the people he reigned over. He points out that a good life came with the inner thoughts. The inner self was what a person was not what he appeared to be. He affirms that people should always believe that their fellow humans love them and have nothing against them. Marcus was a really wise leader as with such view of life, one is not likely to feel threatened by other people and neither is he likely to do wrong to those people because in life the only goal he intends to score is by becoming the best person (Casaubon,).
The most important lesson from the meditations of Marcus is that each and everyone should make a point of appreciating the conditions they are in and striving to be good as a person even when there are misfortunes. For instance, if at one time one falls to misfortunes that so greatly put him at a disadvantage; he should always take it positively than complain about. As he put it down, everything happens with a reason and therefore even such misfortunes that befall an individual ought to be for some reason which the individual cannot identify unless they are composed and positive about life. This can be criticized as a way of making people submissive to oppression from their leaders but should not be so. Always remember that Marcus was among the five good emperors and therefore is unlikely that he would have devised such a philosophy for the benefit of the elite although as he says, tyrannical leader will always be susceptible to corruption and fraud and may use this to their favor. But will they be leading a good life? No. this therefore goes against the reason of the meditation and therefore overrules any criticism that anyone would have for the meditation (Casaubon).
Interestingly is the way Marcus urge that all people should see each other in equal perspectives so that no one feels dejected or cheap in the eyes of another person. Of course all people are equal, but then class and personal acquisitions brings about a difference in the living standards so that naturally some people will think they are inferior to others. However, Marcus says that the most important thing is to ensure that we do not feel inferior or better than other people and should always do what is like by telling the truth and showing confidence in ourselves. This is interestingly since it has a psychological effect. We are what we feel to be. Therefore if we are not confident of ourselves in front of other people, then we feel inferior to them and therefore will not have a good life. We shall always be tormented by our thoughts. As a matter of fact, this is what happens in our daily lives, we strive therefore to please other people rather than please ourselves. This is not a good life as what we do is not governed by our will but by the obligations we feel that we owe those we feel to be superior (Casaubon,pp.16).
Good comes with the desire for an individual to live behind a good legacy and therefore Marcus argues that one should not live as if they have a thousand years to live. Rather, he points out that people should live well when they have a chance to. Why Marcus argues this way is that may be some people fail to do good while they have the chance thinking that they are in a position to correct this in future. What they fail to understand is that death is equally a secret of nature as birth itself and therefore one may end up building a reputation that he did not intend to. Marcus points out that such legacy is passed down through generation and thus becomes immortal. He cautions that anybody wishing to leave posthumous fame should not think that his memory will be remembered shortly by those people who witness his deeds but ceases to exist when they die. This cannot be truer. For instance, the good deeds done by philosophers like Augustus and Marcus and others of the five good emperors of Roman Empire are still known today and will continue to be learned. What if these people thought so myopically, would they have led the good life they did? There cannot be certainties in this (Casaubon,pp.17).
Life is good when an individual is free and makes other people at ease in his presence. In his meditation, Marcus talks about how his father behaved with other people. He did not expect to be served by others and neither did he fail to take note of what they said to him regardless of their place in the empire. It is not possible to determine whether he talks about his biological father or his foster father Hadrian. However, what is known is that they both were nobilities in this land. Additionally, he points out that his father gave all the opportunity to talk with him, not discriminating against anybody. This could be in court where emperors presided and thus Marcus shows the character of his father as a person who was humane and understanding and always ready to do what is good, not to please other people but for his own personal satisfaction. This kind of life is what was advocated for by Marcus and the stoic philosophy (Casaubon,pp.5).
Sobriety is seen as a necessity to the life of mankind. Always making sure that one does not live off the sweat of other people but working hard to acquire legally what he needs. The meditations suggest that in doing this one is exposed to criticism and temptation but argues that one should always keep in mind what he wants to achieve and should not be made to waver by anybody or anything. He suggests that what people say or do so that they are in the way should be taken lightly and not taken in to the heart as it has the propensity to spoil the soul. Apparently, this will always be the case especially to people in positions of leadership. They are not expected to benefit from the public coffers but then again when they do their own activities to sustain their lives they end up to mockery and temptations. It would be a great achievement if such people use the meditation as guide to cross the tight bridge in which life directs towards them (Casaubon).
Above all, Marcus points out that the gods are existent and plan the lives of men that everything will have its own meaning and reason. In his meditation, he points out that his mother died young but ended living with him all his life, albeit in memory. He says that people transgressed him but he did nothing that made him regret later. This in his view is the good life that he dedicates to people. His philosophy, as depicted in the meditation is that every one should forge good relationship with his fellows and the gods, that one should always do what is right and never a thing that would make him regret later. Love, forgiveness, selflessness and many other virtues are what make a good life (Casaubon,pp.5).
Having been born and brought up in a royal family and exposed to all kinds of life, Marcus learned a great deal from the people he lived with. Some things he liked in them some he did not. The meditations became the literature of what he thought would be leading a good life and he showed several of the qualities of a good life from those people he lived with. The most important thing is that those things are were interconnected with nature and mankind and showed that a good life was only the result of a person fulfilling what is in his right becomes good for them. The meditations give the conclusion of a good life as that in which a man lives pure without conflicts with other human beings and nature so that he is happy. Anything short of happiness does not add up to a good life.